Costco and other discount membership clubs sell product to 1 in every 11 people in the United States and Canada, according to a recent study. Why do so many people shop in these vast emporiums? We believe that by purchasing pallets of pickles, vats of Vaseline, and beef cuts the size of a Toyota Camry we can save money.Well, at least we think we save money. And the primary reason for that, new research from Harvard Business School suggests, is the annual membership fee we pay for the privilege of shopping members-only.
Authors Michael I. Norton and Leonard Lee found that the presence of membership fees alone -- independent of any actual savings -- can lead consumers to infer a link between fee and savings. And since we are getting such excellent "bargains", we often spend more than we otherwise would.
Read a summary of the research and a link to the paper itself, The "Fees â†' Savings" Link, or Purchasing Fifty Pounds of Pasta.
- When stores charge membership fees, consumers behave irrationally and infer a "fees â†' savings" link in the belief that stores charge fees because they offer better prices.
- The presence of fees leads to increased spending.
- Consumers in the study were more likely to express a desire to shop at stores that charged fees than those that did not, even when products and savings were similar.
Are you a warehouse club addict? Would the absence of a fee change the way you think about big box prices?